Try finding a mint copy of a Big Little Book today. Originally released with black and white illustrations every other page, it was an invitation for kids to spill their crayons on the floor and start colouring. Other copies might have pages stuck together with strawberry jam. Copies that weren't subjected to the casual carelessness typical of toddlers never served their purpose: to entertain children. Those copies are wasted on collectors, who would dare not even peek at the wondrous contents, lest the spine should crack.
Whitman Publishing Company's Big Little Books made their debut in December of 1932 with THE ADVENTURES OF DICK TRACY (who'd made his newspaper strip debut only a year earlier). This was followed by LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE in 1933.
A total of 18 Little Orphan Annie books were issued between 1933 and 1949. All were based on stories by Harold Gray that appeared in the comic strip. Big Little Books varied slightly in size, but they eventually conformed to a standard format of 3 5/8" x 4 1/2". Thickness depended on page count, which (for the Annie series) varied from 288 to 432 pages. They sold for 10 cents and, later,15 cents.
The earliest titles had two or more printings, and are identical except for the ads. One of the books, LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE GHOST GANG, was also issued as a soft-cover variant with a different cover illustration (in black and white), and is very rare. These may have been given away as premiums.
The year of publication given below for each book is taken from the books themselves, and each of the copyrights shown corresponds with those given in the Catalog of Copyright Entries. One exception is the first Annie book, which is copyrighted 1928, though it came out in 1933. The stories are based on strips that appeared in 1931 and 1932.
The numbering of the books makes little sense after the eighth title, LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE $1,000,000 FORMULA. For instance, the ninth book, LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE IN THE MOVIES, copyrighted 1937, is #1416; but LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE ANCIENT TREASURE OF AM, copyrighted 1939, is #1414.
Sometime in 1938 Whitman changed the name of their Big Little Books imprint to Better Little Books. LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE SHOEMAKER (1938) was the last of Annie's Big Little Books, and THE ANCIENT TREASURE OF AM (1939) was the first to bear the Better Little Books mark. (In fact, an abridged reprint of THE ANCIENT TREASURE OF AM, published in 1949, was the last Annie book, and also the last of any book to be issued with the Better Little Books logo.) Therefore, the books are placed here in order of their copyright dates, rather than publisher's number, which seems logical.
The back covers of the Big Little Books were also illustrated, and, as these mini-tomes were quite thick, so too was the spine. Unfortunately, the back covers of the Better Little Books were unadorned by these colourful pictures; instead, a list of available titles was shown. As these rather dull ads are of no interest here, they are not displayed below.
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE (1933) #708; Big Little Books|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND SANDY (1933) #716; Big Little Books; copyrighted July 15, 1933|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND CHIZZLER (1933) #748; Big Little Books; copyrighted November 6, 1933|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE WITH THE CIRCUS (1934) #1103; Big Little Books; copyrighted April 10, 1934|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE BIG TRAIN ROBBERY (1934) #1140; Big Little Books; copyrighted September 15, 1934|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE GHOST GANG (1935) #1154; Big Little Books; copyrighted March 13, 1935|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND PUNJAB THE WIZARD (1935) #1162; don't let the cover fool you -- the full title of this book can be seen on the spine; Big Little Books; copyrighted December 4, 1935|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE $1,000,000 FORMULA (1936) #1186; Big Little Books; copyrighted October 9, 1936|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE IN THE MOVIES (1937) #1416; Big Little Books; copyrighted August 3, 1937|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE MYSTERIOUS SHOEMAKER (1938) #1449; the only Big Little Book not to use the familiar Little Orphan Annie logo; Big Little Books; copyrighted June 8, 1938|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE ANCIENT TREASURE OF AM (1939) #1414; reprinted 10 years later (see #1468 below); Big Little Books; copyrighted August 20, 1939|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE HAUNTED MANSION (1941) #1482; Better Little Books; copyrighted October 23, 1941|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE SECRET OF THE WELL (1947) #1417; Better Little Books; copyrighted April 18, 1947|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE GOONEYVILLE MYSTERY (1947) #1435; Better Little Books; copyrighted November 28, 1947|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE IN THE THIEVES' DEN (1948) #1446; Better Little Books; copyrighted June 14, 1948|
|LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE AND THE ANCIENT TREASURE OF AM (1949) #1468; abridged reprint of #1414, with new cover; Better Little Books; retains 1939 copyright date inside|